Monthly Archives: June 2014

The Budapest Police Station—

My local store Quito, Ecuador June, 2014
My local store
Quito, Ecuador
June, 2014

Strolling the streets of Budapest at 11pm at night in a semi-conscious state is a very surreal experience—one I do not reccomend.   As I walked away from the club I was thinking to my self  “I am in real trouble”—which  I was,  based on my  feeling the physical pain of having just been beaten unconscious coupled with the mental pain of not knowing where I was.    But as I walked my mind began to clear and I started to recognize my surroundings to the point of being able to direct myself  back to the private apartment I had rented.

Opening the door to my pleasantly decorated one bedroom apartment I felt a real sense of relief as I sat on the couch and gathered my thoughts.    Being knocked out cold in a strange place (or any place for that matter) is a very disquieting experience to say the least.  I then  rapped on my manager’s next door apartment.   She was a pleasant 40 something woman who spoke broken english and could quickly see that I had had a problem which needed a little nursing.     As she lightly pressed an ice filled cloth against my cut and swollen mouth I explained as best I could how I had been injured.     She dramatically apologized for what had happened and assured me that her boss would help me achieve some justice in the morning.

My landlord,  Laslo,  was a tall slim, honest appearing  Hungarian man in his mid 40’s and a very nice guy.   I had met him two days before, standing on the sidewalk near his apartment, pictures in hand, pitching his apartments to potential renters.   A common practice among other landlords in this neighborhood who were looking for business.     Like his manager the night before he was very apologistic and wanted to help me any way he could.    This “help” took the form of an immediate visit to local Budapest police station.

I had not seen the inside of many police stations, either in America or any third world countries,  so this was a real eye opener for me.   To say that this place was in a state of disheaval would be an understatement.   It had only been about 5 years since “perestroika” had led to the Hungarians cutting down the barb wire fence on their Austrian border.   This allowed  the most adventuresome citizens to flee to the opportunities offered by rest of the free world.   What remained in their wake left much to be desired in the eyes of this westerner.    The recently constructed touristy  “retail” shopping area was one thing.   The remaining  buildings that I saw in Budapest in 1994 were in a state of disrepair reflecting the striking difference between Western and Eastern Europe—Capitalism vs Communism.

I found myself and Laslo sitting in the very humble office of two plain clothes detectives.  After a few brief words I was instructed to take a urine test down the hall.    They wanted to see what or if I had been drugged as I was still feeling woozy 12 hours later.    When the results came back the detectives said I had been drugged—confirming my  story and validating my credibility.

The detectives, now feeling confident that a crime had taken place, were very nice and quite professional.   With Laslo’s translating I was able to relate the event’s of the previous night in great detail.   They actually were aware of this club and wanted to close it down.  I was not the first tourist to report a similar problem.   Places like this were not helping the tourist industry which was becoming an important part of the local economy.   “The Russian mafia”  they said actually ran and operated this club and other clubs like it.

The more we talked the more enthusiastic the detectives became.    They really wanted to give these criminals a problem so they proposed a plan to do just that.   They wanted me to meet them that night about 10:30.  Then accompany them back to the club where I would identify the bald headed guy who had cold cocked me the night before.    They would then arrest him on charges of assalt and haul him off to jail.  I really wanted this bastard to experience some form of pain so I gladly agreed to their proposal.

As it turns out this and similar scams, in the early 90’s, were actually in their infancy.   These newly formed Russian mafias were being fueled by the recruiting of unemployed KGB agents and officers.    Following the disruptive influence of “perestroika” they were well on their way to developing a network of far reaching criminal activities both at home and abroad.   In the years to come I personally encountered this “buy me a cocktail scam” in several countries including Las Vegas, America.    A friend of mine, Mark Sanchez, actually  encountered exactly the same scam in Budapest about 5 years later.   By then the price had risen and the collection procedure had been refined.    His bill was $650 and instead of knocking him out he was escorted to two ATM’s by 3 very large bouncers.

It was 2pm by the time Laslo and I arrived back at the apartment.   I thanked him and agreed to meet again around 10pm.    Once again I sat on the couch and reflected on the situation.    No longer feeling that great about Budapest considering the events of my last 15 hours  I thought about  my options:

1)    Meet the detectives and maybe Laslo tonight and go execute the plan against baldy and the club.   I really wanted that guy to suffer.    But on the negative side:                                           .                a)   I don’t speak the language.                                                                                                                      .                 b)   I don’t really know or understand the rules these guys play by.

2)    I still have time to catch the 3:30pm train to Vienna.

“Good bye Budapest”—“Vienna here I come.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

A very bad night in Budapest—

Mango Moon Hotel Manuel Antonio Costa Rica---May, 2014
Mango Moon Hotel
Manuel Antonio,  Costa Rica, May, 2014
                                                                                            I knew better than to listen to the hawkers on the street—especially in a city like Budapest.  After all it was 1994 and I was  52 and more than halfway through my three month solo backpack trip around 17 countries in Europe—you would think by now I would certainly know better.

It was my third night in this strange enigmatic Hungarian capital city on the Danube River.   I had actually exchanged smiles and small talk with this pleasant little man the night before.   Strolling off my dinner on the famous retail walking street I was not looking  for anything in particular when I saw his  smiling face approaching once again.

“Hello Americano” he greeted me stretching out his crude sales book of cellophane covered pictures featuring scantily clad young Hungarian  girls.    “See the pretty girls working in my club—only $5 for you to enter and only $3 for beer” he pandered on.   “Please come with me—mixed drinks for you only $5”.

I was bored and he was nice, so I thought “what the hell’.   “OK let’s go” I said and like a lamb being led off to slaughter I followed him around the corner.

It  was a small non-discript building with no sign and  3 bouncers standing in front of a plain looking entrance.    I paid the $5 and went  inside first passing thru a small transition room before entering the main show place.

The dimly lit room was not large.   There was a full bar covering the back wall.    The wall to my left was lined with chairs filled with about a dozen clantily clad girls  waiting for their turn to dance.    The waitress pointed me to a couch and chair to my right.   I sat down  as a partially clad  girl slowly worked the pole located between the bar and me.      ” Heineken” I said in answer to her question as she walked away.

“Man this has to be the  tamest strip show I’ve ever seen”,  I thought to myself as I surveyed the sparsely populated room.    Then from out of  nowhere an extremely cute young girl  dressed like a college coed was sitting  on my right.   “Hello” she said in very good but lightly accented english.    “May I join you?”    “Hell yes”  I thought  “why not?”    This girl was dressed so conservatively—not like a sleezy prostitute—it really took me by surprise.

“My name is Sophia and what is yours”  she smiled.   “Scott” I answered.   “Do you work here?”   “Yes” she replied “but I am really a student at the local university.”   We chatted for a while before she asked me to buy her  a “cocktail”.    No problem I thought, there only $5 and she’s very nice.

The waitress brought the cocktail as we continued chatting back and forth.   After about 15 minutes another consevatively dressed and equally beautiful young girl was now sitting on my left.   I actually recognized this girl from seeing her a few  times on the street the last couple of days.    “My name is Anna” she said, ” may I have a cocktail as well?”   “OK” I said “I’m Scott.”    Again thinking “why not” it’s only $5 and buying  pretty girls a drink is no big deal—besides these two coeds were really hot.

The chatting continued on for about another half hour and two more cocktails when Sophia said, “You don’t really think these drinks are too expensive do you?     Isn’t it worth it since we are so nice to talk to?”

“Oh Oh”  I thought something is definitely wrong.   “I’m out of here”  I said to myself as I stood up and put my coat on.   “Bring me the check” I shouted toward the bartender    calculating that I owed about $23 for the beer and 4 cocktails.   NOT!!!     The bartender handed me a bill for $125 to which I immediately shouted “NO, NO NO.”  He calmly picked up a sheet  of plastic covered paper  laying on my small table and pointed to the word “Cocktail $25”.   The word was  obscurely  written on what I now realized was a cleverly designed  menu.  “Is not correct” I said as I handed him a $20 bill.  I waited a couple minutes before he turned and left than I walked through the first door leading to the street.

What I didn’t  realize was that I had been drugged by something they had spiked my beer with.

BAMM—The second I entered the small separation room a bald security thug cold cocked me  with a  sucker punch to the mouth.   Simultaneously a  second thug hit me from behind  on the back of my head with a blunt object knocking me out  cold.

The first thing I remembered was standing at the bar while a waitress held a wet towel filled with ice against my swollen mouth.  I felt the back of my head, tenderly touching the bump on my skull while feeling my hair which was now matted with blood.    I must have passed out again because the next thing I knew I was standing on the sidewalk  outside the club.    Between the effects of the drugs and being knocked out I was very groggy.    I surveyed the  three bouncers and two policemen standing there looking at me thinking “what’s next?”

I must be in big trouble my foggy brain rationalized seeing the policemen talking to the bouncers in a foreign language —going to jail was the last thing I wanted.    Then the entrance  door opened and out came  a beautiful girl who looked very familiar.    She walked over to me to present “the bill”—“oh yea” I thought that’s  Anna the second girl to join me.    Still in a dazed stupor I asked her if she would accept a credit card—-no she said only cash.   I paid her in Austrian shillings  and waited for her to return with my change.     When she did I was so disoriented I amazingly thought to myself “how much should I ‘tip’ her?”

With the bill now having been paid, the police left and the others went inside leaving me to stand on the sidewalk alone.  Dazed, I stood there for awhile before I started walking  on the quiet side street.   As I walked I asked myself —-“where am I ?”  “Like I mean what country am I in?”    It wasn’t long before I came upon a taxi parked next to the curb—“where in the hell”  I asked the driver “am I?”    “BUDAPEST” he answered.    “That sounds really bad” I thought to myself as I walked off into the night, not knowing where I really was or where I was really going.

Hijacked in Quito—

Quito, Ecuador June. 2014
Quito, Ecuador
June. 2014

 

 

I knew I was in trouble when the taxi turned left.

It was 11:30 pm on a Monday night the 2nd of December, 2013.  I had just left an upscale sports bar after watching the Patriots loose a close home game to the Packers on Monday night football.    I walked out  to the street, feeling satisfied with the game, and  as usual hailed a taxi.  I jumped in the back seat and gave the driver instructions  to drive me back to my apartment.   I knew the route, so when the driver unexpectedly turned left onto a small side street and began slowing to a stop, I knew that I had a problem.   A BIG PROBLEM.

WHAM!!!   3 doors opened and in jumped 3 smelly Ecuadorian thugs shouting and screaming at me in Spanish.    The big guy on my right hovered over the top of me making jabbing movements toward my face with a 12 ” screw driver held  threateningly in his right hand.     The guy on my left grabbed my left arm and pinned it between his legs while quickly using his left hand to rub some kind of pepper paste in my eyes blinding me instantly.

The chaos and shouting was frighteningly  intimidating to say the least.    My blinded eyes were  burning  causing me to scream out in pain while the two thugs were punching me  with short glancing blows on the side of my face and body—I felt a sense of fear begining to suffocate my entire being.   Deep inside my brain my first thought came over me like a black cloud saying—“they finally  got me and I am in very big trouble”.   Which was true.    Here I was in a strange country where I didn’t speak the language, outnumbered and totally compromised by some very bad guys with no idea what the hell they had in mind or what would happen next.

They quickly emptied the pockets of my jeans of  $60 cash, my debit card and my brand new California drivers license along with a $400 sports watch I was wearing and my cheap Nokia mobile phone.     What else could they want?     KIdnap me for ransome?   Kill me for fun?   Beat me silly out of a prejudicial hate for foriengn gringos?    These thoughts filled my mind as I felt a level of fear, the likes of which I had never before experienced in 22 years of  foreign travel,  begin to take me over completely.

The guy in the front seat appeared to be the boss.   Like the other three he spoke no English except to say “I want  MONEY”.    “Esta tarjet credit o debit?”    “Debit” I replied.   “Que es su numero pin” he demanded.    With that the two thugs on either side increased the intensity of the punching in my face and stomach as if to let me know that I had better answer quickly and correctly or I would soon be getting a “real” beating.  ” OK OK OK” I shouted hoping they would stop so I could respond with the number.

Giving your PIN number to a thief who has just stolen your card is the most unnatural response  you can imagine—however when the alternative choice could include having a 12″ screwdriver jabbed into your eyes and  face the choice becomes very simple.    I quickly calculated that my downside financial risk was at most $2000 so the answer became very easy—“ocho, cinco, seis , ohco I shouted three times at my captors.   “Es numero correcto hombre?”    “Si si” I replied.    With that he opened his door and was gone while the taxi sped away into the night.

So here I was blinded, sitting between between these two foul smelling low life Ecuadorian thugs, each pinning one of my arms between there legs holding me helpless while the taxi continued to move through Quito at a high rate of speed going I knew not where.  Awaiting my fate whatever that might be.   There was no use trying to resist so I decided to go completely passive letting my ams fall totally limp not saying a word.   I had heard a former Navy Seal on Fox News tell what to do if caught in a similar situation.   “Formulate a plan as best you can—then execute” he had said so my plan became one of complete passivity.

I was scared—really scared—“Please Jesus” I prayed  to myself”protect me and bind  these agents of Satan from doing me bodily harm.”      The Jesus I know is a God who hears and answers prayer so as I continued to pray this prayer I felt a strange sense of peace and calm come over me.    What are they going to do I kept thinking?   I knew they were going to get at least $1000 tonight which was the banks daily limit.  Would they hold me for days taking another $1000 each day till my money ran out and then let me go or kill me when the money was gone?   As it turned out the guy got his $1000 at 11:55 p.m. and could have gone back for another  $1000 6 minutes later at 12:01 am but he wasn’t  that smart.

After about 45 minutes of continual high speed driving  I heard them starting to laugh and talk loudly amongst themselves.  They had received the call telling them of the money which they would now get.   Cautiously I took the laughing as a good sign—at least they didn’t sound pissed.     Finally the taxi slowed and pulled to the side of the road.     My two thug buddies opened there doors and got out—was this where they were going to beat the hell out of  their victim for fun and leave him by the side of the road.   Still blinded I felt hands pull me from the car and stand me up by a roadside wall—then thankfully I heard two doors slam and the sound of the taxi driveoff into the night.    Jesus once again had answered my prayer as I stood unharmed and unseeing leaning up against the wall thinking “I am getting way to old for this.”

The Need for Change—

Hoi An , Vietnam Beach,  August 2013
Hoi An , Vietnam
Beach, August 2013

Death is the one thing that gives real meaning to life.  The one event for which  you don’t want to be a minute late or a minute early.   Just imagine at 70 years old being constantly  mistaken for 40.   Is this a blessing or a curse you ask?   The answer may lie within the soul of the person in question or it may not. Most of us, to one degree or another, are constantly searching for the fountain of youth. But what if you actually were to find it? Like author Oscar Wilde’s fictional charector Dorian Gray the price of never aging may be a devils bargin, one far more costly then most of us are willing to pay. Or maybe the cost  will be acceptable after all, a cost a reasonable person is most willing to pay.

Change is the thing most of us need beginning about 30 years of age.    Change is what we  need, to remake all the bad habits we formed through ignorance and laziness as we squandered the benefits of youth and fresh hormones during those first 30 carefree years.   By the time we reach age 40 a persons age may begin to really show.   Good genes no longer cover the signs of bad unhealthy living and it’s how you have  lived your life that shows what really matters.    This is the time that change is really critical for those who have been neglectful but still desire a smooth and natural transition into middle age and beyond.

 

Ask yourself these questions—

Quito, Ecuador June. 2014
Quito, Ecuador
June. 2014

Having now lived past 70 and still being taken by many for an age closer to 40 I am often asked the question—why or more to the point how? Is there a grotesquely ugly aging picture of  Dorian Grey hanging in my closet? Or am I merely the effect of 40 years of carefully designed causes lived and executed with daily regularity. Being taken for younger than your years is not only a product of how you look and sound to others but more importantly how you carry yourself both in terms of attitude and countenance.   Do you look and sound old and tired or youthful and fresh?   Do you walk with a bounce in your step or slouch down the street with shoulders slumped and head down?   When you speak does your voice carry a tone of confidence and charisma or a fearful wimper of doubt and uncertainty?

 

The Answers Can Change Your Life—

Latitude 00-00 Quito, Ecuador The earth's midway point
Latitude 00-00′-00″
Quito, Ecuador
The earth’s midway point

The answer to these  questions comes in many life changing forms and is the subject of the book waiting for you in the following chapters. These chapters are not set out chronologically but reflect different events  of my life which unfolded as the particular experience evolved.   Each expierence usually either led to a new life lesson or as all to often the case merely served to reprove an old lesson which apparently needed to be relearned— reminding me that the more a lesson needs to be relearned the more painful and costly or even more valuable it will become.

This book is written for you—a person who not only seeks to add years to your life but life to your years.  If your a 30 something you want to start now by taking the steps that I did 40 years ago that will lead to shaping your mind and body in such a way that 40 years from now you will be enjoying the benefits of looking and feeling much younger. This is like saving for your retirement—the time to start is now.    You can learn from my mistakes begining now, not waiting till later when the cost of learning can be much higher.

 

Marine Corps Boot Camp

Angor Watt Cambodia September 2013
Angor Watt
Cambodia
September 2013

If I were to tell you I wasn’t scared I would be lying.   The gym was about one quarter filled with sleeping cots lined in perfect rows as we filed in one by one. “Welcome home ladies” the stocky young drill instructor facetiously barked as we entered the cavernous room.   “Home”for the next day or two was “Dan Daily Recieving Barracks” the infamous hall, named after a double Medal of Honor winner. A place where each day’s newly arriving recruits  were being pooled together. Awaiting the total of 80 new recruits who would form our “band of brothers” platoon, soon to begin training  together for the next 56 days.  One thing that sticks out most in my mind years later were the guys who were panicked by the screaming DI’s. As they rushed to shave and bath cutting themselves in the process, with cheap disposable razors, leaving blood streaming down their faces.

     “BANG BANG BANG”crashed in my ears as blazing lights broke the 5am dark, startling all of us into a groggy consciousness, that first morning in our new quansot hut home.  “What the hell is that”I asked myself as I leapt from my top bunk and snapped to attention on the cold cement floor.   The “that”was our three newly assigned drill instructors. “Gently” awakening their 80 fresh charges to their first full day of platoon life in Marine Corps boot camp by banging axe handles on trash can lids.  What an introduction to life as I would come to know it for the next 8 weeks.
      There was a war going on in Vietnam and these DI’s didn’t want any Marine’s blood on their hands because they hadn’t done their job.   Their assignment was to take these raw recruits and tear them down, both physically and mentally. This was their task during the first few weeks of training and then build them back-up—transforming the young boys into hardened Marines—the toughest fighting corp of men the world has ever known.
   Marines are also famous for their ability as professional sharpshooters and “snapping in” is the training that makes this happen.  The course consists of two intense weeks of specialized training carried out at Camp Pentelton the big Marine Base about 35 miles north of MCRD, San Diego.   Qualifying with the M-14 rifle was the goal and duty of every young Marine who goes through recruit training. These two weeks had been nervously anticipated by us all.  However, I did not expect what was to follow.
    “See me in the duty hut after chow” Sargent Stucker growled at me and private Calloway as we stood in line single file waiting to eat dinner.  Our crime— whispering back and forth in line—a big no no and we were busted.   “Oh shit” I thought as we entered the duty hut. As there we unfortunately found each of our squad leaders and our platoon leader—not a good sign.  Of our three DI’s Sargent Stucker was the platoon “hit man” with a well earned reputation. He was a real sadistic bastard and this night he would not disappoint.
    “OK privates so you like to talk?”  Stucker said,  “So start talking. And while they’re talking you other three pukes jump up on these lockers and hang by your elbows until there done”.   I’m not sure just how long they hung onto those 8 ft. high steel lockers. Calloway and I continued our forced little chat while they hung there with their hands clasped behind their heads, the locker’s top edge cutting into the backs of their upper arms. But it was sure long enough for them to start groaning and moaning before Stucker finaly gave the order to “drop to the floor”.
    My squad leader, Dan Kniezel, was a bad ass, good ole boy from Waco, Texas, but there was nothing good about the look in his eye as he glared up at me. As I stood at attention, he sat in a crouched position, sweat pouring off of his flushed and reddened face.  “They’re  all yours”,  Stucker grinned.  With his release given, Kniezel swung from the ground up—SMACK— hitting me full force and flush against my face. His open hand knocking me backward as I spun a complete 360 over the DI’s desk in front of which I was standing.   I rose slowly shaking my head while thinking “just another  day of fun and games in Marine Corps boot camp”.
    The time was 1966 and the Vietnam War was really heating up. Over the years I have often thought of how many of these strong young kids, who I would never see again— ages 17 to 23—ended up in Vietnam and what then was their fate?   Wounded or killed in action?   We all believed in the mission and the honor of the Corps—just a “band of brothers”—80 young guys molded together by 56 days of sweat, pain and fear. Guys who believed in America and who were just trying to do their very best for the country that they loved.
More lessons from the Marine Corps—-
The first time I said “I think I am getting too old for this” I was probably about 25.   Too old for what you ask?    Too old for Christmas stockings hung by the fireplace or too old for running up a long flight of stairs on his way to the 5th floor.  Is this a question to be asked of a person growing out of adolescence or one thinking like an old man aging before his time.    In this case the truth be known I was actually a young person thinking like an old one. This weak attitude was driven by an unwanted thick layer of fat which had  settled in around my belly for the first time in my still young life, brought on by the usual suspects of too many calories and too little exercise.
      Look here’s the point—I was out of shape and over weight thereby justifying in my mind the feeling that I was already too old to participate in certain activities which I perceived to be beyond my age related capabilities.   In other words I was just being plain lazy.    The truth is that many of us can always find a reason to not do something which we feel is too uncomfortable.   This is a mind set born out of an attitude that looks for an excuse not to do something rather than a mind set that says I can do anything given enough time and determination.
    The Marine Corps, I learned at 23, is a great example of a place where you are pushed to do things you never thought possible.   Boot camp drill instructors are trained to push their young recruits, both mentally and physically, to go far beyond the places where their preconceived notions of  their current abilities could ever take them.    I remember thinking I can’t do another push-up or march another step until the extreme fear of the DI’s painful retribution moved me forward to new previously unimagined levels where I never thought I could go.
    Transferring the drill instructor’s skill of meeting and overcoming the impossible, would prove to be the key to conquering future challenges in life that would have otherwise been for me impossible.  I have oftentimes thought back, when facing difficulties,  to the visual image of the drill instructor saying “we’ve been trained to know your ultimate limits and that’s where we’re goig to push you”.  This instilled in me the fact that what ever it was I thought I couldn’t do, be it physical or mental, I was wrong.